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Baseball concentrating on future abuse

NEW YORK -- For all the fuss over reported admissions of
steroid use by Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, major
league baseball probably won't discipline them.

Instead of addressing the past, baseball commissioner Bud Selig
is more concerned with pressuring players to agree to more frequent
testing before the current labor contract expires in December 2006.

Already convicted in the court of public opinion, the players
who testified before a federal grand jury are protected from
discipline because steroids weren't banned by major league baseball
until Sept. 30, 2002, previously undetectable THG wasn't prohibited
until last March, and Human Growth Hormone still isn't blacklisted.

And while baseball's labor contract calls for penalties for
positive tests and criminal convictions, there's no discipline
specified for fessing up to past use.

"These articles say baseball is reeling from these
allegations," New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, a players'
association leader, said Sunday. "To me, there is nothing new.
People have been talking about the steroid issue for several years
now. What's coming out of the grand jury testimony, I don't think
there's anything surprising. Yes, it's a big story. It absolutely
needs to be addressed. But it shouldn't be surprising or
earth-shattering to anybody."

Dozens of major leaguers gather this week for the union's annual
executive board meeting, which starts Monday in Phoenix.

"Obviously, the steroids issue is something that was going to
come up in our board meeting," union head Donald Fehr said. "That
would have been the case quite apart from this."

Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, and Rob Manfred,
executive vice president of labor relations in the commissioner's
office, have met several times since May to discuss Selig's call
for more frequent testing and harsher penalties. Publicly, the
union has shown a willingness only to discuss changes, not to make
them.

"We've had ongoing discussions with the union," Manfred said.
"We feel a great sense of urgency to complete the discussions, and
we hope the union has the same sense."

Because steroid use wasn't banned until two years ago, it's
inconceivable baseball would denote in its record book that Bonds
might have used performance-enhancing drugs when he set the season
home run record of 73 in 2001. And whether any revelations damage
his chances to make the Hall of Fame will be determined only when
the eligible baseball writers who vote make up their minds in
several years.

Testing with penalties for steroid use began only this year,
with each player tested once between the start of spring training
and the end of the regular season. The penalty for a first positive
test is counseling, and a second positive test could result only in
a 15-day suspension. It would take five positive tests before Selig
could ban a player for a year.

Even if a player is convicted for the use of a prohibited
substance, baseball's labor contract allows a suspension of only 15
to 30 days for first-time offenders.

Critics say year-round testing is needed, along with stiffer
penalties. U.S. Sen. John McCain threatened to introduce
legislation in January to override baseball's labor contract. Even
if enacted, there's a good chance his idea would be thrown out in
court as contrary to federal labor law.

"It sounds great, or it sounds tough," Glavine said. "I'm not
even sure if that can be done. I'm sure it was designed to be, 'Oh
my God, we had to do something."

Unlike Olympic athletes, players with major league contracts are
protected by a collective bargaining agreement and the right to
challenge discipline for off-the-field conduct before an
arbitrator, meaning the longest suspension Selig could impose would
be the same as for a criminal conviction.

And that might not even hold up. Baseball lawyers said news
reports of grand jury testimony aren't sufficient; baseball itself
would have to have the actual sealed statements.

Giambi's problems with the New York Yankees are the result of
his increased injuries and diminished output. The team is examining
whether it can use the language in his contract to escape the
remaining $82 million he is owed for what appears to be reasons of
financial flexibility -- not necessarily because the team is upset
about steroid use.

No major leaguer ever has been suspended for steroids.

"The only thing that's come out of the grand jury is Jason
Giambi admitted to it, but nobody's surprised by it," Glavine
said. "In Barry's case, the cloud remains as to whether he knew he
was doing it or didn't. It kind of puts it back on the front page
and it becomes a hot-button issue that everyone is talking about.

"People forget that in terms of this agreement, it's only been
in place a short period of time and the first period was just a
testing phase. We've really been though only one year of mandatory
testing. I think the program we had last year had some effect on
guys. Did it go far enough and what steps can be taken to totally
eliminate the suspicion, both from player to player and fan to
player? We'll continue to tweak and look at it."